Most of us meet new people regularly. We interact with them in the grocery store, in daycare, at work or just walking down the street. Some of them become friends for a moment, others friends for a lifetime. A few leave marks on our lives and in our hearts that we will hold dear forever.
I first met Michael, Joe’s brother, when Joe moved to Florida in February 2004. I spent that summer in Florida, in between semesters, before moving down permanently. Joe’s car was a 5-speed and I had never driven one before. Joe tried to teach me but, frankly, it wasn’t going well. I needed to learn so that I would be able to drive myself around. One night, after an unsuccessful attempt at driving around the block, I was feeling a bit frustrated. Michael was off from work the next day and volunteered to teach me how to drive. I happily accepted.
Michael sat in the car with me and explained the mechanics of shifting and the purpose of the clutch. He also explained that each car was different and that it was important to feel the car and listen to it, to know when to shift gears. We practiced for a few hours and despite many stalls, I started the get the hang of it. The next day, we took the car out again and this time Michael told me to drive onto one of the busier roads in the neighborhood.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked, slightly terrified.
“You have to learn somehow. Eventually you need to drive on these roads, and it’s better to do it when there is someone in the car with you to help.”
I decided to take his advice and headed onto the main road. I did well at first but then, as I tried to turn, I stalled the car. I started to panic. There were cars behind me, waiting for me to get moving and what if I couldn’t get the car started again?! Despite my heart racing and the cars lining up behind me, Michael remained calm.
“Remember what we talked about. Remember what you learned.” He talked me through the steps of pressing in the clutch, holding the break and starting the car without being in gear. Once the car was running, I held the clutch and shifted into 1st. I slowly released the clutch while lightly pressing the gas and started to ease forward. I didn’t stall!
I made it home without stalling and was, quite frankly, proud of myself for being able to make it home. I was also very grateful to Mike, who stayed calm, had a ton of patience and a knack for teaching. I attribute my ability to drive a stick shift to him.
We lost Mike too early – today he would have been 31. I only had the pleasure of knowing him for a brief moment in time but I have many amazing, fun and priceless memories with him that I hold dear to my heart. He left a mark on all of the lives that he touched during his time with us.